Whitehall 1212 is the original telephone number of Old Scotland Yard, and also the number printed on the ‘dial’ of this retro phone I had in my Hotel room last night.
The current 999 system came about via the Metropolitan Police in London as they found that their Police Stations were being overrun either by visitors to the station alerting them to emergency situations or trying to phone them in the growing trend of using the new invention, the telephone. Not every one could remember or knew the telephone number of the local Police Station. In November of 1927 the general public in London were advised ” if you have an emergency dial 0″. When the operators answers ask for the service you require. The Metropolitan Police maintained this service till 1934 then they introduced their Information Room with the famous number of Whitehall 1212 where all emergency calls ended up. Emergency calls via telephone kept increasing and telephone operators were unable to identify emergency calls from other operator service calls.
As is normal a disaster of some description was required to prompt government action. In November of 1935 a fire occurred in London in which five people died, in the inquiry which followed it became apparent that a system was required that alerted telephone operators to emergency calls. A parliamentary Committee called the Belgrave Committee examined the problems and set up various experiments in London. A great deal of discussion took place between the Home Office, the Police and Post Office. It was decided not to use 111 as this number can be dialled by phones which are faulty. 12 was not a good idea as at that time any one wanting a number on the 12 exchange would be barred because of the emergency calls. The same could be said for 222, this would have closed a big exchange in London and that could not happen.
999 was used because the numbers could be remembered easily, that they were all at the same end of the dial. It was relatively simple to convert coin boxes to accept 999 calls with out charge. The 999 system open in London in July 1937, it was 1938 before it reached Glasgow. It was the first service of its type in the world.